Colchester United defender Tom Eastman used to clean the boots of ex-Ipswich Town striker Jon Stead
- Credit: Richard Blaxall / Colchester Uni
Tom Eastman, as a teenager, used to clean the boots of first-team striker Jon Stead at Ipswich Town.
But Eastman will be looking to show Stead a clean pair of heels this weekend, as Colchester United bid to bolster their League Two play-off push at Notts County.
Eastman made a surprise but welcome return to the U’s starting line-up, after seven weeks out injured, for last Saturday’s encouraging 2-1 home win over promotion rivals Luton Town.
Now the 25-year-old centre-back will be looking to follow up that display with another big defensive effort at Meadow Lane tomorrow, when he will be up against his old team-mate from Portman Road – Stead has bagged 13 goals leading the Magpies front-line this term.
“I’ve played against Jon Stead a few times, from our time together at Ipswich,” explained Eastman.
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“In fact, I used to clean his boots as a young boy, when I was in the youth team.
“I’m sure it will be a tough battle this weekend, and I’ll be looking to keep him (Stead) out.
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“They have two big boys up there, in Stead and Shola Ameobi. I’m sure they will be a handful, having played at the top level, but the way we have been defending recently, and in fact the whole season, we should be OK,” added Eastman, who was on Ipswich’s books from the age of eight.
Eastman was occasionally in the same squad as Stead, during Town’s 2010-11 season in the Championship under manager Roy Keane – they both started the Carling Cup victory at Exeter City (3-2 win in August, 2010), and were both involved in the 2-1 league win at Crystal Palace, 11 days later.
However, Stead left Portman Road to join Bristol City at the end of August, while Eastman made a total of 10 league appearances, most of them out-of-position at right-back, before ending up at Colchester following the end of that 2010-11 season.
While Stead’s goals, for his current club Notts County, have helped to keep England’s oldest Football League club away from the relegation zone, Eastman has played a big part in plotting the U’s play-off push.
Eastman’s last appearance, before his return against Luton last weekend, had been a the 1-1 draw at Blackpool on February 4.
At first it was feared that he would be ruled out for the season, with an ankle injury, but instead he is now looking forward to the U’s last seven games of the campaign.
“It was a surprise to get back so quickly,” admitted Eastman.
“The initial thought was that I would be out for the rest of the season, if I had the operation, and I had my head round that really. I was pretty much going to go ahead with the operation.
“But luckily Chris Porter came up with the idea. He had had an injection in his ankle a few months before and he recommended it to Flynny (physio Tony Flynn), who found out a bit more about it, and that was route we went for.
“Luckily, it seems to have worked. Everything feels OK and I felt good last weekend. I didn’t train for too long before that game, but it feels good at the minute.”
Eastman was ever-present during the U’s League One campaign of 2014-15, and only missed three league games during last season’s relegation campaign, so it is unusual for him to sit out games – he missed 10 games in all, between the trip to Blackpool and last weekend’s win over the Hatters.
Tomorrow will be his 208th league appearance for the Essex club, since his arrival from Ipswich in the summer of 2011. He has started a remarkable 203 of his those first 207 games.
“I’ve been lucky not to miss many games in my career so far,” said Eastman.
“It wasn’t too nice to be watching the boys play from the stands, especially with all the other injuries that happened, including a week after I got injured when Lloyd (Doyley) and Frankie (Kent) also got injured.
“But I think the boys that came in have done well, especially Cameron James. I don’t think he had even played too many under-23s games this year before he was chucked straight in.
“But he has dealt with it all so well, especially after his first game against Wycombe, and against (Adebayo) Akinfenwa, which was a test for him. He came through that one and I think that has set him on his way.
“We’ve been seeing games out this season, and getting the three points, and it’s been a pleasant change to past seasons when we have tended to be in dogfights.
“I think the change of formation has helped, to three at the back. Players are comfortable with the system, and I think it plays to our strengths,” added Eastman.